Outside North America, online qualitative research has been viewed skeptically and done only to a limited extent. But a strong case can be built statistically for the potential of using qualitative research worldwide.
Since client projects typically are highly confidential and cannot be used for demonstration to other researchers, we gathered a team of colleagues from around the world to conduct a multicultural project that could be used for demonstration and publicity. This privately sponsored project was also used to test the different qualitative tools and techniques in an online environment and to show how deep and rich insights can be gathered online.
The topic selected for the research was teens and communication technologies: their current behaviors and habits, usage and attitudes about cell phones, e-mail, IM, text messaging, and social networks. We also asked them about their personal hopes and fears, as well as their dreams for future communications technologies.
Fieldwork took place from May to September 2007 in 11 countries: UK, France, Italy, Germany, US-English-speakers, US-Latinos, Canada, South Africa, Brazil, China and India. Each moderator conducted one bulletin board focus group in their home country and native language, based on the same screening criteria and using the same topic guide.
The sequential approach of doing one or two countries at a time allowed for accumulated learning and improved methods during the process. With our moderators speaking several languages we could follow the other countries and use findings from one country in others.
It was a volunteer project, and most of the team members financed the recruiting and incentives themselves. FocusForums sponsored the bulletin board software platform for the 11 boards in six languages.
What we learned:
- The similarities among global teens outweighed the differences in many areas where attitudes to communication technology are concerned
- The cell-phone is at the centre of the communications universe – it’s the “myself phone” and has a big emotional and functional role in daily life. It’s easily personified. A loyal and powerful servant, working hard while a teen has fun, but also in need of protection from physical risks (such as being dropped in the toilet).
- Teens select the right communication method to meet the needs of the moment: Speed/immediacy, convenience, reliability, socializing characteristics, emotional distance and control
Our experience highlighted the need to work with native-speaking, bilingual local moderators when doing international research.
This project has been the basis for many articles and conference presentations and webinars and continues to be used to promote online qualitative research around the world.